Sunday, August 30, 2015

Where in the World is "Aleksandr Nevskiy"?

"Aleksandr Nevskiy" and her crew -- December 2010
On August 27, Russian media outlets ran two competing stories about the transfer of Dolgorukiy-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine "Aleksandr Nevskiy" from the Northern Fleet to the Pacific Fleet. TASS, citing an unnamed General Staff source, reported that the submarine departed port in mid-August and will arrive "in Kamchatka" [presumably its new homeport of Rybachiy] in the first week of September. Later that day, Interfax, citing its own unnamed shipbuilding industry source, reported that the submarine remains in the Northern Fleet base of Gadzhiyevo and won't depart for the under-ice transfer until mid-September. The Russian Ministry of Defense has made no statement to support or refute either claim.

So, who's right? Since the Interfax article was aimed at refuting the TASS article, we'll start with the TASS article.
  • The submarine departed in mid-August. This is true if you believe in coincidences. A survey of the submarine's crew members' social media accounts shows many of them were active up until 18 August, but none of them have been active since. And with comments like "I'll be gone until October" and "I'm planning to head to sea (with several bags of candy bars, cookies, and other snacks)," one might conclude that the submarine did, in fact, depart port on August 18 or a few days later.

  • The submarine will arrive in Rybachiy during the first week of September. The distance from Gadzhiyevo to Rybachiy is approximately 4,000 nautical miles. In order to travel that distance in 21 days (using August 18 as the departure date and September 7 as the arrival date), the submarine would have to travel 190.5 nautical miles per day at an average speed of ~7.9 knots. Of the eight Delta I/III SSBN under-ice transfers conducted between 1980 and 2008, four completed the transit in 24-32 days. The other four conducted patrols after transferring to the Pacific Fleet area (but before arriving in Rybachiy), extending the total length of their transfers  to 78-84 days. If TASS's source is correct, then "Aleksandr Nevskiy" will make a direct transit and may even break the SSBN transfer record.

As for the Interfax report, all that can be said is that the source's claims are in direct contradiction to those of the TASS source. Moreover, it should be noted that all eight Delta I/III SSBN transfers mentioned above began in mid- to late-August -- never in September.

Thus, based on previous SSBN transfers and on clues provided by the submarine's own crew, it appears more likely that "Aleksandr Nevskiy" commenced its under-ice transit in mid-August and is no longer in Gadzhiyevo. If true, then Interfax's source is clearly uninformed, or someone may be intentionally trying to confuse those who read the TASS story.

The below image depicts the most recent ice-edge reporting and the locations of Russian icebreakers and ice-capable research vessels in the Arctic region. While they may not be tasked with directly supporting the under-ice transfer, they could be called upon to respond in the event of an emergency involving the submarine.

Ice-edge reporting and locations of select vessels in the Arctic region -- August 30, 2015